The Ramayana: A Story of Abduction
In Morphology of the Folktale, Vladimir Propp proposes thirty-one functions that make up all Russian fairytales. Propp’s Formalist approach to analyzing folktales can be extended beyond stories of the Russian tradition and even beyond fairytales. Proppian analysis of the Hindu epic, The Ramayana, reveals that the story is driven forth by function eight whereby “the villain causes harm or injury to a member of family” (31). Because Rāvana’s abduction of Sita was not one of the eight legal forms of marriage allowed by Ancient Indian Dharmasūtra specifically a Ksatriya marriage, Rama must follow after Rāvana in order to avenge the dishonor done to him by his wife’s captor contributing to the advancement of the plot (Hara 298).
According to Propp, these functions are the “fundamental components of a tale,” “the number of functions known to the fairytale is limited,” and “the sequence of functions is always identical” (Propp 22-23). A story does not need to contain all thirty-one functions, but they must follow a specific order. Propp says, “A tale usually begins with some sort of initial situation. The members of a family are enumerated, or the future hero is simply introduced” (25). The Ramayana as told in The Mahabharata begins with an anecdote of Rāvana’s rise to power and introduces the hero, Rama. The Rāksasa king, Rāvana, is given a boon by the god Brahmā that makes him invincible over all creatures except men. Rāvana stirs up so much trouble on earth that Brahmā is asked to put an end to this. Visnu reincarnates himself among the sons of Daśaratha: Rama, Laksmana, Bharata, and Satrughna (Buitenen 727-731). This introduction is not one of Propp’s functions, but it is still an essential part of the story.
At this point, the story begins to follow the morphological units outlined by Propp. His first function is “one of the members of a family absents himself from home” (Propp 26). Of his four sons, Daśaratha names Rama as heir to his throne; however, his jealous wife Kaikeyī persuades him to name her son Bharata as heir and exile Rama. The king complies with the wishes of his wife. Rama, his wife Sita, and Laksmana leave Ayodhya and go to the forest (Buitenen 731-733). The tale skips the next three functions and picks up again with Propp’s fifth function: “the villain receives information about his victim” (28). While in the Dandaka forest, Rama and Laksmana “slew fourteen thousand Rāksasas in order to protect the ascetics” (Buitenen 733). Among these Rāksasas was Sūrpanakhā, the sister of Rāvana, whose lips and nose where cut by Rama. Sūrpanakhā goes to Lanka where Rāvana learns of Rama (733). Rāvana becomes furious and begins to plot his revenge.
The sixth function in the sequence is “the villain attempts to deceive his victim in order to take possession of him or his belongings” (29). Rāvana sees Mārica, his past minister, and tells him to disguise himself as a jeweled deer. Rāvana hoped that Sita would see the deer and lust for it, sending Rama to capture it for her. Mārica does as Rāvana instructed him and the plan works just as he had hoped; transitioning into the seventh function: “the victim submits to deception and thereby unwittingly helps his enemy” (Buitenen 734-735; Propp 30). Laksmana follows after Rama, leaving Sita alone in the forest. Next, “the villain causes harm or injury to a member of family” (Propp 30). Rāvana disguises himself as a hermit and is easily able to capture Sita while Rama chases after the “deer” (Buitenen 735). With Rāvana’s trick, the plot begins to rise.
Rama returns to his hermitage but finds that Sita is gone, corresponding to Propp’s ninth function: “misfortune or lack is made known” (Buitenen 736; Propp 36). Propp’s tenth function involves a seeker hero; however, Rama is a victim hero (the victim of Rāvana’s villainy), so the story goes on to function eleven “the hero leaves home” (Propp 39). Rama leaves the Dandaka forest in pursuit...
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